Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What's On Your Nightstand - March 2011

I really was in a reading mood this month!  I read several great books, even finishing up one that has been hanging around for awhile. 

Finished in March -
The Count of Monte Cristo (unabridged) by Alexandre Dumas
The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Bound South by Susan Rebecca White
                                          A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

Currently Reading -
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (reread to teach to my Geography classes)
The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo
Freedom by Johnathan Franzen

Next Up -
The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston

To see what others are reading this month, visit 5 Minutes for Books.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

by Lisa See

This is one of those books I know I should read, but never got around to it.  In the back of my mind I thought I wouldn't like it.  Was I ever wrong.  I was pushed to read Snow Flower as part of the Global Reading Challenge as my Asian selection and I really wish I would have read it sooner.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is beautifully written - drawing the reader in and captivating your attention with fluid and descriptive storytelling.  It is the story of two laotung sisters in 18th century China, detailing the trails and tribulations of the girls individually and their relationship together.  It is narrated by Lily and told at the end of her life as she has entered her 80th year of life.

The laotung relationship between Lily and Snow Flower has no American equivalent.  It is at its core, a "marriage" of two women who share eight common traits.  Their purpose is to the burdens of being women in Chinese society - from footbinding, to marriage, to cruel mother in laws, to births and deaths of children and if they are lucky, a long widowhood together.  From the beginning the laotung relationship between Lily and Snow Flower is based on deception and this ultimately breaks down this sacred connection.

What I liked most about this book was the detailed look into the lives of Chinese women in the 18th century.  Never before have I read such a description of the horrors of footbinding.  Lisa See details the entire process from the first wrappings through the breaking and healing of the bones.  She address the dangers, even death, that can result from the process.  She returns to the consequences of footbinding throughout the lives of the girls - how the size of their  feet can help make  a better marriage.  The constant cleaning rituals necessary to prevent infections through out their lives.  And just how limited the lives of women are because they can't walk long distances on such small, unbalanced feet.  And yet, given all of this, women in China continued to subject their daughters to this treatment for generations.

Another important Chinese cultural practice that is well developed in the book is the unequal treatment of men and women.  From the beginning of the novel, it is obvious the young girls in the story are a burden.  Everything they are taught in in preparation to get rid of them in marriage to the higest bidder.  Once in their in laws homes the girls are at the mercy of their mother in law.  Some get lucky, some do not.  As the lowest member of the household most of the work falls to them.  If they are fortuitous enough to give birth to a son, their lot in life may improve.

It is because of the shared hardships that Chinese women developed their own secret, written langauge - nu shu.  Kept secret and hidden from men, Chinese women used nu shu to share their joys and sorrows throughout their lives.  Nu shu is the basis for a laotung relationship and it is through nu shu and the secret fan that Snow Flower and Lily share their lives together.

There is nothing in this book that I did  not like.  I highly recommend it.  Don't let this one sit on your shelf for years like I did. 

Rating - A+

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's On Your Nightstand - January 2011

Finished - Things Fall Apart by Chinua Acebe
                  The Know It All by A. J. Jacobs
                  The White Queen by Phillippa Gregory

Started - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
                The Art of War by Sun Tzu
                The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

I have been trying to read this book for several years and assigned it to my AP Human Geography class, which forced me to finally sit down and read it.  Upon finishing it, I wonder what took me so long.  Achebe's writing style leaves room for the reader to draw their own conclusions and fill in the blanks in many instances.  Hallmarked as one of the first African books really about Africa, it gives great insight into life in African villages before the arrival of the white man and colonization.  I found myself drawn into the symbiotic relationship between the Ibo and their natural surroundings.  Everything had a reason, a purpose and a story.  When the white man came and destroyed this relationship, I found myself more than just a little bit ashamed of my ancestors. 

I viewed the main character, Okonkwo, as a tragic hero in this novel.  He achieves so much - building a successul farm, becoming a great warrior, marrying 3 wives, earning many village titles, but he also loses a great deal culminating in the losses of his son, his culture and belief in his fellow man.  For Okonkwo, his Ibo people and Africa, things truly did fall apart in this novel.

Rating - B

Last 2 Reading Challenges for 2011

When creating my original challenge list for 2011, these two challenges had not been posted yet, but I was looking for them!

Southern Literature Challenge

Jen at The Introverted Reader is hosting the Southern Literature Challenge.  This is the one type of challenge I really wanted to join this year and I am so glad I found it.  I am signing up at the Y'all  Come Back Now level - 4 books. 

I plan on reading
I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg
The Cracker Queen by Loretta Hannon
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
probably a Joshilyn Jackson book

Historical Fiction Challenge

I participated in this challenge last year at Royal Reviews and am following it to its new home at Historical Tapestry.  The Historical Fiction Challenge is one of my favorites, as in the past I have mostly read historical fiction.  I am signing up at the Struggling with the Addiction - 10 books.  I am hoping to overlap many books for this challenge with my other challenges. 

My first read will be Philippa Gregory's The White Queen

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best Books of 2010

As we ring in a new year, I wanted to share the books I consider to be the best books I read in 2010.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larrson
Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Signoria da Vinci by Robin Maxwell

Overall this year, I read 36 books with a total of 13,486 pages.  Not bad statistics for a very busy school year which severely limited my reading time.  I only wrote 16 reviews, a dismal number at best and one statistic I hope to increase over the course of 2011.